It all started with an apple, then along came an ice cream sandwich and a jelly bean. Now portable computer tablets are available in all shapes and sizes by all sorts of companies, allowing everyone to have their cake and eat it.
But with so many different products, how do you know which one to buy? On the face of things they all sound pretty much the same - you can use a tablet to play games, listen to music, watch films, surf the net, do work, and download apps on just about every topic under the sun, over the moon, and beyond the solar system.
But there are differences, and it is important to know which one is right for you. I am often resistant to joining the hype of brand new devices; what's the point of a Smartwatch, Google Glass, and all these other snazzy fandangled gadgets? I don't even have a mobile phone. When the iPad came along, it is fair to say that I was not one of those people lining up outside an Apple store at midnight for its release.
But as time has gone by, I've come to see how handy a tablet could be, and for the last few months have been considering which one would be right for me. After reading Which? magazine, testing devices in-store, and checking out specs online, I thought I would share what I've learnt to help anyone else who might be considering buying a tablet.
So which is the best tablet for you? That all depends on what you want to use it for and what your price range is. Some devices you can get for under £100, while others can cost in excess of £500.
Tablets come in various sizes ranging from about 6-7" inches to over 10" inches. A seven inch tablet is about the screen size of a mobile phone, which means it is extra lightweight, can easily fit in your pocket and be used with one hand. The downside to something so compact means a lot of scrolling, and is not ideal if you have poor eyesight. Smaller devices usually have a limited storage capacity as well. They are good if you don't need it for much more than listening to music, checking emails, making a phone call, or playing a few games while on the train, but if you have greater needs then bigger is better.
If you need big text for comfortable reading, or want to watch movies, then a bigger screen is better suited to you. Bigger devices can hold up to 64GB for big files, but of course this means they are heavier, and can't be carried about in your pocket.
I have decided that something in between is best for me. 9 inches sounds about right.
How much storage space do you need? Are you just using your tablet to go online, or are you streaming films, saving lots of photos, and downloading lots of games?
Tablets can have a 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB capacity, but not every brand offers all these options. Make sure the brand you choose provides the storage you need.
If you are not sure exactly how much storage you are going to need, it is best to go in between. Don't waste your money on tons of memory, and don't risk filling it up too quickly. If you find that you need more space down the line, most tablets have an SD or microSD port so that you can buy extra memory.
For me, 16GB is probably enough to get me by.
What accessories do you want your tablet to come with? Some can be bought as part of a package deal, while others can be purchased later on. Some accessories are provided by all brands e.g. protective cases. Others, for example, keyboards, are more exclusive.
I don't know about you, but I just can't get on with touch screens. I find them difficult to operate, and much prefer a more tactile experience. I want buttons. That means a keyboard. Tablets that can come with keyboards include the Microsoft Surface, iPad, and GoTab.
Another option would be the Samsung Galaxy Note, which has a stylus pen. This will prevent the screen getting greasy too quickly, and is helpful for people with thick fingers.
How much internet access do you need? Tablets offer Wi-fi, 3G, and 4G. For wi-fi only, you will either need your own wireless connection, or find a wi-fi hotspot to be able to get online. With 3G you can get access just about anywhere, but you have to pay a monthly subscription. 4G is just a faster version of 3G.
Your main consideration is going to be which operating system you want. There are three main kinds: iOS, Windows 8, and Android.
iOS is exclusive to iPads, meaning that it is only compatible with Apple software and hardware. If most your other devices are already from Apple (iPods, MacBooks, etc) then this will suit you just fine, as you can sync all your devices for easy file sharing. Apple's operating system is very reliable and more resilient to hacks and viruses, but is more expensive than most tablets. Prices start from £249 and go up to £739.
Windows 8 is exclusive to Microsoft devices such as the ASUS, Dell Venue, Nokia Lumia, Toshiba Encore, and Surface. Windows 8 is excellent for people who want to use their tablet for work, because it gives you access to the Microsoft Office Suite, and is pretty much like working from your laptop computer. Because of this they are also very expensive. Prices start from £249 and go up to £1039.
Android is the most affordable and widely compatible operating system. There are currently three main types on the market: Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, and Amazon's modified version.
Jelly Bean is basically an updated version of Ice Cream Sandwich, and what most new models will come with, but ICS is still good, and cheaper. KitKat will be the next version.
The Android system is probably what you want if you don't have a particular allegiance in the Apple/Microsoft wars. It has been engineered by Google, offers the largest choice of apps, and is the system used by most other brands for their tablets, including Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, Sony, Asus, and more. While it is not as powerful as the other two, it is simple to use, and much less expensive. Prices start from £69 and go to £480.
Amazon's modified version of Android has been reconfigured so that is works exclusively for their Kindle Fire tablet. Kindles were originally just e-readers, but now you can do all the same things as with a regular tablet. You can only download Amazon apps, which makes it rather restrictive, but when you buy a device you get £4 worth of downloads. Prices star from £119 and go up to £489.
After much research, I have decided that I will go for the 9" GoTab. It is at the lower end of the price range, has a sleek design, and comes with a keyboard. What about you?
It turns out that I could not get the tablet I wanted as it had sold out. Instead I got a 7", which actually isn't as small to handle as I thought it was. Took a lot of setting up, but it seems quite good.